Who Should the NBA’s Awards Be Named After?

This week, the NBA announced it would be renaming all of its major individual player awards after several of its all-time greats. This resulted in a lot of debate over whether this was necessary, whether the awards were named after the right players, whether the new trophies accurately reflected the legacy of the players in question, and so on.

For entertainment purposes only, I decided to try my hand at figuring out what players these awards, and others, should be named after. For simplicity, we’re going to be looking only at retired players (and two active players), working our way down the top two tiers of Bill Simmons’ Hall of Fame pyramid. Awards in italics predate this announcement and are (usually) not changed. 

Player Actual award Proposed award Credentials
Michael Jordan Most Valuable Player Most Valuable Player Often considered the greatest player of all time, his 5 MVPs are tied for second-most in NBA history, but some believe he should have won the award more but for people being tired of giving him the award every year (this could have been named for Kareem, who won 6 MVPs, if he didn’t already have an award named after him)
LeBron James Active Clutch Player of the Year Suck it, Skip Bayless!
Bill Russell Finals MVP
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award
Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP
Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP
Tim Duncan Considered for Defensive Player of the Year (never won; Hakeem would then be Center of the Year), Power Forward of the Year (almost overqualified compared to other position-specific awards), and Clutch Player of the Year (LeBron was more consistently ranked higher on the lists I saw)
Wilt Chamberlain Rookie of the Year Rookie of the Year One of only two players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, generally considered to have the greatest rookie season of all time
Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP
Stephen Curry Active Most 3-point FG made in a season (alternately, 3-point contest champion) All-time leader in 3-pointers made in significantly less time than closest competitors
Oscar Robertson Western Conference Championship Most triple-doubles in a season Had the most triple-doubles of all time and was the only player to average a triple-double for a season until Russell Westbrook came along
Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year Executive of the Year NBA logo was modeled after West, West won Executive of the Year twice
Hakeem Olajuwon Defensive Player of the Year Defensive Player of the Year 2-time DPOY, all-time leader in blocked shots, fourth in defensive win shares behind Russell, Duncan (who never won DPOY), and Kareem
Shaquille O’Neal Fan’s Choice Player of the Year One of the most entertaining characters in NBA history
Moses Malone Most rebounds in a season Fifth all time in rebounds behind Wilt, Russell, Kareem, and Elvin Hayes
John Havlicek Sixth Man of the Year
Dirk Nowitzki International Player of the Year Perhaps the most important international player of all time and third-greatest on Simmons’ list
Elgin Baylor Small Forward of the Year Highest-ranked small forward on Simmons’ list not to receive another award
Julius Erving Slam Dunk Contest champion Brought the slam dunk to respectability and introduced the concept of artistry to the move
Bob Pettit Western Conference Champion Regularly made the NBA Finals with the St. Louis Hawks and was a contemporary of Cousy, below; would have named after Elgin Baylor but couldn’t find another person to name the SF award after other than Dr. J
Karl Malone Most points scored in a season Third all-time in points scored behind Kareem and LeBron
Kevin Garnett Power Forward of the Year Played most of his career at PF
Charles Barkley Awarded to the player with the most physical yet clean play on defense (This award mostly exists to keep Shaq from lording his over him)
Bob Cousy Eastern Conference Championship
Isiah Thomas Point Guard of the Year Highest-ranked point guard on Simmons’ list not to receive another award
Dwyane Wade Shooting Guard of the Year Played all but his rookie season at SG
Scottie Pippen Teammate of the Year (currently named after Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes) Sometimes called the greatest “second banana” of all time for his role in winning six championships with Michael Jordan from 1991-98
John Stockton Most assists in a season All-time leader in assists
Rick Barry Most Improved Player His 1966-67 season remained one of the ten biggest single-season jumps in scoring average in NBA history 50 years later
Bill Walton Center of the Year Highest-ranked center on Simmons’ list not to receive another award
David Robinson Defensive Rookie of the Year Was unanimous Rookie of the Year and won Defensive Player of the Year in his third season
George Mikan Most Improved Player Pioneer Award (awarded irregularly to active players who have changed the game of basketball) His dominance led to the introduction of the shot clock

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